Clarence Thomas’ ‘Corruption’ Scandal Grows Even Bigger

Clarence Thomas’ ‘Corruption’ Scandal Grows Even Bigger

FILE - Associate Justice Clarence Thomas joins other members of the Supreme Court as they pose for a new group portrait, at the Supreme Court building in Washington, Oct. 7, 2022. Conservative mega-donor Harlan Crow purchased three properties belonging to Thomas and his family, in a transaction worth more than $100,000 that Thomas never reported, according to the non-profit investigative journalism organization ProPublica on Thursday, April 13, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

By Isabel Soisson

April 14, 2023

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas failed to disclose a 2014 real estate deal between himself and Republican mega-donor Harlan Crow, according to a new report from ProPublica.  

The deal involved the sale of three properties owned by Thomas and his relatives in Savannah, Georgia. The report claims that Crow, chairman of the Board of Crow Holdings, a multi-billion dollar real estate investment and development firm, purchased these properties from Thomas and his family. Tax and property records show that Crow made the purchases through one of his companies for a total of $133,363.

The big deal, as it were, is the fact that a federal disclosure law was passed in the wake of the Watergate scandal requiring justices and other government officials to disclose the details of most real estate sales over $1,000, which Thomas never did. According to four ethics law experts that spoke with ProPublica for this report, Thomas’ actions “appear to be a violation of the law.” 

“The transaction marks the first known instance of money flowing from the Republican mega donor to the Supreme Court justice,” ProPublica said in its report.

This latest report comes a week after another story published by ProPublica detailed their investigation into Thomas and his wife’s luxury travel with the Crows. These trips included trips on the Crows’ yacht and private jet. Thomas did not disclose this travel either, saying last week that at the time, he was advised that he did not need to. 

Justice Thomas did not respond to requests for comment from ProPublica for this new report, although Crow said in a statement that he purchased Thomas’ mother’s house with the intention of one day creating “a public museum at the Thomas home dedicated to telling the story of our nation’s second black Supreme Court Justice.” 

The new report details, however, that Crow did not just purchase the home, but had tens of thousands of dollars worth of improvements made to it, all while Thomas’ mother was still living there. And according to Slate, she lives there to this very day, meaning Crow is effectively her landlord.

Crow also did not directly address why he also bought two vacant lots from Thomas down the street from the home.

Experts told ProPublica that Thomas’ failure to disclose the real estate deal, on top of last week’s report, “raises more questions about his relationship with Crow,” as CNN notes.

Kathleen Clark, a legal ethics expert at Washington University in St. Louis, who reviewed years of Thomas’ disclosure filings, told ProPublica that Thomas’ failure to disclose the 2014 transaction suggests that he “was hiding a financial relationship with Crow.”

Questions surrounding Thomas and Crow’s relationship are notable considering Crow’s history of donating to conservative causes. Crow Holdings has donated more than $3 million to mostly Republican causes and campaigns, including to Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the conservative Coalition Por For Texas PAC, according to Transparency USA. He also sits on the Board of Trustees at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank.

The full extent of Crow’s personal political donations, however, are not known and the billionaire has said he does not disclose contributions that he is not required to publicize.

Thomas has not heard cases directly involving Crow, but has heard cases involving the real estate industry and the American Enterprise Institute.

Because of the real estate tycoon’s political leanings, questions have arisen about whether Thomas’ relationship with Crow have influenced or compromised his rulings as a Supreme Court justice, especially considering his tendency to rule in favor of conservative causes. 

The latest ProPublica report will likely refresh calls for an investigation into the relationship between the Supreme Court justice and the billionaire mega donor.

Last week, after the report on Thomas’ travel with the Crows came out, Senate Democrats called for both a probe to be conducted and for a stronger code of ethics for Supreme Court justices to be issued. And earlier this week, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced that it plans to hold a hearing “on the need to restore confidence in the Supreme Court’s ethical standards.” 

Several recent polls also show that the American public is in favor of an investigation being conducted into Thomas’ actions. One, from The Economist and YouGov, a market research and data analytics firm, found that 58% of voters disapprove of Clarence Thomas accepting luxury trips from a billionaire without disclosing them. Another, conducted by Hart Research Associates, a public opinion research firm, shows that 70% of Americans are in favor of an investigation being conducted. 

“This is beyond party or partisanship,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) tweeted. “This degree of corruption is shocking – almost cartoonish. Thomas must be impeached.”

The backlash hasn’t been limited to Democrats. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a watchdog group, filed a civil and criminal complaint against Thomas, saying that his acceptance and failure to disclose “repeated, lavish gifts” undermined confidence in the Supreme Court as an institution.

“Justice Thomas has accepted consistent and luxurious gifts to such an extent that they have subsidized his lifestyle in a way unimaginable for most judges, suggesting a use of his position for personal gain and a compromise of his objectivity,” CREW President Noah Bookbinder said in a statement.

Another watchdog group, the Campaign Legal Center, wrote a letter to the Judicial Conference, which serves as the policymaking body for the federal courts, requesting that it refer Justice Thomas to the US Attorney General for “willfully failing to disclose gifts of free travel that he has received for over twenty years.”

“Transparency and accountability are integral for ensuring that government officials, including Supreme Court justices, are acting on behalf of the people they are appointed or elected to serve,” the group wrote in a statement. “If these disclosure laws are not enforced, the public does not know if Supreme Court justices are favoring their own personal interests over those of the American populace.”

  • Isabel Soisson

    Isabel Soisson is a multimedia journalist who has worked at WPMT FOX43 TV in Harrisburg, along with serving various roles at CNBC, NBC News, Philadelphia Magazine, and Philadelphia Style Magazine.

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